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LID Landscaping

Low Impact Development is a way to manage water on your own site, by allowing the land and plants to slow rainwater down, controlling the quantity and flow of stormwater, soaking it up, and using soil and clean it. Slowing the water down limits erosion and runoff of polluted water, filters it, and keeps water usable onsite.

Plants are an effective resource.

The amount of area covered by plants affects the amount of water that will infiltrate the soil.
Greater impervious areas (like roads, roofs, and parking lots) result in greater amounts of water runoff.

Plants slow the flow of water and increase the permeability of the soil.



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Whether starting fresh or rejuvenating old landscapes, LID landscaping can be a beautiful way to manage stormwater and resources.

Benefits of Low Impact Landscaping include:

  • Enhanced ecological biodiversity.

  • Food for livestock, humans and wildlife.

  • Habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators.

  • Water conservation.

  • Shelter from sun and wind.

  • Helps manage invasive weeds.

  • Erosion control and improve soil health.

  • Supports the health of aquatic habitats.

  • Creates borders and privacy screens.

  • Reduces noise, dust, and other types of pollution.

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​Examples of Low Impact Landscaping

  • Hedgerowssometimes called living fences, shelter belts, windbreaks or conservation buffers.

  • Rain gardens, Bioswales, Bioretention

  • Cover crops, Silvopasture, Alley cropping 

  • Food forests, permaculture

Plants reduce energy and maintenance costs

Shade from trees keeps homes and yards cooler in the summer.

In the winter, Trees and shrubs slow the wind and reduce wind chill. 

Ground covering plants reduce the amount of water evaporating from the soil which therefore requires less water.

Soil effectively covered by plants, shades out weed seeds, so requires less maintenance than landscape with exposed soil.

Plants protect the soil from wind and water erosion and reduce the amount of pollutants that enter our waterways.


Hedgerow, Filter strip, or Vegetated buffer 

A row of plants at the edge of an area, whose purpose is to slow surface water runoff, to assist in infiltration, and prevent soil erosion.
Using plants as a nonstructural LID technique can significantly reduce the impact of rainwater.  
Vegetated areas provide a pervious surface for groundwater recharge, particularly during dormant or non-growing seasons.

Vegetation can remove pollutants from the runoff flowing through it.
The preservation of existing natural vegetated areas is a nonstructural LID-BMP that should be considered throughout the design of land development. Ideally, the more natural area to be preserved, the better.

See hedgerows guides.

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Rain gardens

What is a Rain Garden?

A rain garden is a landscaped depression in the land, with soil designed to help rainwater runoff from a roof, driveway or other impervious surfaces to soak into the ground and filtered.

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Bioretention Cells, Bioswales, and some Hedgerows are sometimes referred to as "Rain Gardens", because they are basically doing the same thing in different situations. For example, a "Bioswale" is basically a kind of rain garden where water is slowed and filtered, but much of the water is directed to another location.

Bioretention is a more complex rain garden with drainage systems and amended soils.  

Hedgerows are not technically rain gardens but can be used to slow surface water as it heads down slope, as an edge to a Bioswale, or as check dam

Curb cut extension


Curb cut raingarden

Curb cut inlet

A Bioretention cell (strip or trench) is more complex rain garden with engineered drainage systems in a slightly recessed landscaped area constructed with a specialized soil mixture, an aggregate base, an underdrain, and site-appropriate plants.


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A bioswale is a slightly recessed landscaped area constructed downstream of a runoff source. At the beginning of a rain event, a bioswale absorbs and filters water runoff. Once the soil-plant mixture below the channel becomes saturated, the swale acts as a conveyance structure to a bioretention cell, wetland, or infiltration area.

There is a range of designs for these systems. Some swales are designed to filter pollutants and promote infiltration and others are designed with a geo-textile layer that stores the runoff for slow release into depressed open areas or an infiltration zone.



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Rain gardens are designed to be self-sufficient. Some weeding and watering will be needed in the first two years, and perhaps some thinning in later years as the plants mature, but a well-planned raingarden can be maintained with little effort after the plants are established.

Include native plants!
Native plants eliminate the need for fertilizers and pesticides, and require little or no supplemental water. These plants evolved and adapted to the local climate and growing conditions. 
Native plants are important to wildlife including bees, butterflies, and birds adapted to using native plants as a source of food and shelter.  Adding even just a few native plants to your landscape can go a long way towards supporting wildlife.

Rain gardens function only as well as they are designed. Planning is needed as well as knowledge of soil and local weather conditions. Take the time to plan effectively.

Note: Don’t locate a rain garden within 10 feet of a building foundation, near the edge of a steep slope or bluff, in low spots that do not drain well, where groundwater is within one foot of the bottom of the finished rain garden, over a septic drain field or tank, over shallow utilities (call before you dig), or in areas that would require disturbing healthy native soils and vegetation.  For more in depth information, see the online books below.

There are many ways plants can be effectively used in the landscape, but plant selection and proper planting and care are vital.

Plant needs
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Putting the right plant in the right place, not only increases the likelihood of a happier healthy plant, but also reduces the likelihood of big problems later.

Plants all need the same things, but they don't all have the same needs. 

Some plants need more sun, some need more shade.

Some plants need a lot of water, some need very little,

and everything in between…

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Step 1. Evaluate what you have to work with.

  • Is it flat or Steep?

  • Is it Wet or Dry?

  • Sunny or Shady?

Are there things in the way?


  • Pipes?

  • Powerlines?

  • easements?

  • Is there a house blocking the sunlight? 

  • Does the roof restrict the amount of water getting to the plants underneath.

The physical aspects that are there, will direct how you can or should proceed. 

Plants for Shade

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Plants for Sun

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Anatomy of a Rain garden

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Make it part of the landscape. It should work together with and be visually and functionally integrated into the rest of the landscape.

Choose a shape. Consider all the rules of composition, screening, and circulation—not just the rule that says to put a rain garden in a low spot 10 feet from the house.

Consider style. A rain garden can be as formal or as wild as you like, but pay attention to how it looks with your home’s facade. 

Integrate with other gardens. Consider making a depression within a perennial bed or shrub border (especially if space is tight and you don’t have room for a larger rain garden that stands alone).

Create repetition. Put in more than one rain garden for repetition and continuity. If it works with your overall design, create a little rain garden for each downspout. Or add other water features around your yard such as a fountain, birdbath, or waterfall to repeat the water theme, which is another way to lend cohesion to your landscape.

Consider aesthetics and function. Make your rain garden more attractive and user-friendly. Use decorative stones as edging, create an adjacent seating area, build an attractive pathway, or add other hardscape and accessories to make your rain garden more visually appealing.


RG tips

Select plants. Include native plant species that provide food and habitat for wildlife and insect pollinators. Plants should be able to tolerate moisture as well as intermittent dry spells. Include sedges, grasses, and rushes with deep root systems that will help water seep into the soil. Select a mix of plants with different foliage, texture, and flowers that bloom at different times for season-long interest. Add marginal plants that are more drought-tolerant around the perimeter. Plant shrubs in groups of 3 to 5 plants and small plants in "drifts" for greater visual impact. 

RG zones

Planting Zone

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Rain garden plant selection examples

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Plants for shady zone 1

Slough sedge (Carex obnupta) 
Small-fruited bulrush (Scirpus microcarpus)
May Lily (Maianthemum dilatatum)

Pacific waterleaf (Hydrophyllum tenuipes)

Ferns Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) 
Deer fern (Blechnum spicant)

Goat's beard (Aruncus dioicus)
Red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) 
Black twinberry (Lonicera involucrata)


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Plants for sunny zone 1

Dagger-leaf rush (Juncus ensifolius), Taper-Tipped rush (Juncus acuminatus)

Cascade penstemon (Penstemon serrulatus)

Henderson’s checker-mallow (Sidalcea hendersonii)

Rocky Mountain Iris (Iris missouriensis)

Red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea)

Pacific ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus)

Black twinberry (Lonicera involucrata)

Pacific crabapple (Malus fusca)

Plants in zone 1 need to be able to tolerate wet conditions and seasonal flooding.

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Plants for shady zone 2
May Lily (Maianthemum dilatatum)

Oregon wood sorrel (Oxalis oregana)

Sword fern (Polystichum munitum)  
Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina)

Low Oregon Grape (Mahonia repens)
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)
Salal (Gaultheria shallon)
Western Pussy Willow (Salix scouleriana)

Cascara (Frangula purshiana)

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Plants for sunny zone 2
Daylily (Hemerocallis spp.) 
Giant camas (Camassia leichtlinii)

Henderson's Checker Mallow (Sidalcea hendersonii)

Douglas Iris(Iris douglasiana)
Red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) 
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) 
Western Pussy Willow (Salix scouleriana)
Tall Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium)

Pacific crabapple (Malus fusca)

Plants in zone 2 need to be able to tolerate moist to occasionally flooding conditions.

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Plants for shady zone 3

Inside-out flower (Vancouveria hexandra)

Western bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa)

Sword fern (Polystichum munitum)

Evergreen huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)

Low Oregon grape (Mahonia nervosa)

Rhododendron macrophyllum

Vine maple (Acer circinatum),

Cascara (Frangula purshiana)

Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis)

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Plants for sunny zone 3
Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Cooley's Hedge-nettle (Stachys cooleyae)

Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor), 
Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) 
Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus)

Oregon Boxleaf (Paxistima myrsinites)

Tall Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium)  
Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor)

Mock Orange, Philadelphus lewisii

Plants in zone 3 need to be able to tolerate moist to dry conditions.

New plantings require extra care during the first 1-3 years. 

Make sure new plants receive a deep watering 1 or 2 times per week for the first several months and then at least once per week for the first year.

Good maintenance while the garden is becoming established is important.

Apply a good layer of mulch to maintain soil moisture and reduce weeds.

Once Rain gardens are established, they need little maintenance to perform well and look good. 

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Rain Garden Maintenance

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  • After heavy storms, check the inflow and overflow areas to make sure they are still intact and can continue to carry water into and out of the rain garden.

  • At least twice a year, check around the inlet and overflow areas for debris build-up such as leaves, sticks, and other items. 

Keep the Flow 

Water flowing into the rain garden can carry with it various types of debris that can clog the soil mix and slow drainage. 

Fast flowing water can also slowly eat away at your soil layer, washing it away and damaging your garden.

RG maintenance
  • Maintain a cover of decorative rock around the inlet and overflow area to protect the soil.

  • Look for areas where water may not be soaking into the ground. This may be due to fine sediment or compaction of the soil.

  • Remove sediment that may be building up and rake the soil surface. If you suspect compaction, break up and loosen the soil when it is not saturated.

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Maintain soil coverage​

  • Mulch provides multiple benefits for rain gardens by helping to:
    Keep the soil moist.
    Replenish organic material in the soil.
    Prevent erosion.
    Discourage weeds.

  • Every year check the mulch layer and, if needed, apply enough to maintain a layer of shredded or chipped wood mulch that is about 3 inches deep all throughout your rain garden—on the bottom, the sides, and around the perimeter.

Maintain a healthy cover of plants

  • Replace any dead plants to fill in holes.

Like mulch, full coverage of plants provides multiple benefits for rain gardens by helping to: 

  • Keep the soil moist. 

  • Replenish organic material in the soil. 

  • Prevent erosion. 

  • Discourage weeds

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Rain gardens will still soak up and filter rain water even if they are full of weeds. However, the plants in the rain garden may not grow as well with all the competition. Soils in rain gardens have good structure, so weeds should be easy to pull by hand, especially in the spring when the soil is moist and the weeds are small.


Plants will need to be watered every few days until established (about 4 weeks). For the first year, most plants need deep watering during the dry summer season to establish healthy root systems. After two or three years the native plants in your rain garden will need little or no watering, except for during times of drought.

Do not apply fertilizers

to your rain garden. The rain garden soil mix provides plenty of nutrients and the native plants in your garden are well suited to local growing conditions, so extra fertilizing is not needed.

Plant care & pruning
See LID Landscaping 


Create interest with variety

Often, landscaping uses repetition of very few plants in a symmetrical design. While it can be attractive, using a variety of plants adds interest and beauty. It also reduces the possibility of significant plant failure due to disease and/or pests. (Since  many pests and diseases are host specific, if you have only one type of plant an infestation will do a lot more damage than if you have a variety of plants, because they won’t all be susceptible to the pest.)
Having a variety also increases the food and shelter benefits to wildlife such as birds and bees.

The beauty of color

Of course, color can make a big difference in art.
The gardener’s color palette is made of plants. Elderberry, viburnum, hebe, fruiting shrubs, Groundcovers, perennials, flowering bulbs, etc. show color in their leaves, their flowers, their fruit, even their bark. 
There are many varieties and colors of plants suited to the different landscape environments. Pay attention to the needs of the plants, but don’t be afraid to try new plants. Remember variety is beautiful and decreases the likelihood of many problems.
You can combine subtle hues with splashes of color, use a lot of bright colors, or coordinate hues of a single color palette in your landscape. 

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When selecting plants, consider the form, color, and texture, as well as light, soil, and moisture requirements.

Season of interest
Spring Summer Fall Winter


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Bloom time
Spring Summer Fall Winter

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From the group of site appropriate plants, choose a
combination plants of
different sizes, shapes, colors, and textures



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The Canopy is the topmost area.

The Understory is made up of

  • High Shrubs

  • Low Shrubs

  • High Plants

  • Low Plants including Ephemeral and Ground Covers

  • Vines

The Root Zone consists of soil, roots, and a variety of organisms necessary to plant and land health

Not only does including a variety of plant heights look better, but it also benefits a greater variety of birds and other beneficial creatures.

Consider both the vertical area (that stretches from your soil to the treetop canopy) as well as the horizontal area (the size of your lot).

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Structural Diversity  -Vertical layering

Vertical layering is an artist technique using multiple layers or mixed borders, such as a tree with varying heights of shrubs and/or ground covers underneath.
Vertical layering increases the variety of plants in an area. That is not only beautiful, but can provide more food for pollinators, wildlife and people and more habitat for beneficial wildlife. It also reduces the amount of maintenance needed for the landscaping.

Keep the soil covered by plants or adding mulch.  It will greatly reduce the amount of water transpiration, soil erosion, and weeds that will germinate in your garden, 

Textural Diversity adds beauty and interest

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Something upright,
              something bold,
something delicate

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LID landscape tips

Use the shape of the land and the availability of light and water to shape your design.

When you're designing a landscaping, keep planting zones in mind. 

  • Group plants together that all have the same needs.  

  • Consider the mature size of a plant.  Make sure they have room to grow.

  • Make sure plants that require a lot of water are near a water source. (Sometimes that means a hose or rain catchment)

  • Make sure that plants that require more sun are not planted next to a plant that will grow up and shade them out.

  • Make sure that plants that require more of your attention are easily accessible. 

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The more bare ground in your garden, the more you will be fighting invasions of weeds.

Keep the soil covered by plants or adding mulch.  It will greatly reduce the amount of water transpiration, soil erosion, and weeds that will germinate in your garden, 

Choose a variety of plants, including shrubs, flowers and grasses, to create variety in color, height and texture.


Consider the year-round look of your rain garden – clumping grasses will hold their shape throughout the winter, and many types of shrubs develop striking red branches in the colder months.


Consider your home’s existing landscape, and the landscaping of the surrounding neighborhood.

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If the garden is near the road, consider sight lines and setbacks

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Edging (such as pavers, stones, etc.) can facilitate access for maintenance and provide separation from lawn and other landscaped areas.

To maintain access to the middle of the garden for weeding and other tasks. A few strategically placed flat rocks or pavers can allow access without compacting the soil or leaving room for weeds.

Turf grass vs other vegetation

Water flowing as sheet flow across a vegetated area is slowed, filtered and, given the opportunity to re-infiltrate into the soil. While turf grass is better than pavement, research has demonstrated that areas covered with turf grass control much less water than other vegetation, especially when comparing grass areas with naturally wooded areas or forests. Therefore, in keeping with the goals of nonstructural LID s, the amount of lawns and other grass areas at land development sites should be minimized. Instead, alternative vegetation, particularly native plants, should be used to revegetate disturbed site areas.

The use of plants can provide a low-maintenance alternative to turf grass, resulting in lower fertilizer and water needs. The use of native ground cover, shrubs, and trees instead of turf grass can create infiltration characteristics similar to those of natural areas. These plants can also provide better habitat and create food sources for songbirds and small animals. Native landscaping can also be used to provide property screening, summer shade, and year-round landscaping interest. In selecting, vegetation, consideration should be given to height, density, and other growth patterns, visual appearance, anticipated use of the planted area, and other maintenance needs. Dense vegetative cover, long flow path lengths, and low surface slopes provide the most effective vegetated filters.

If you have excessive lawns, consider reducing the size of it. Changes can be made gradually over several seasons.
A good place to start is with areas already established with shrubs and trees. They can be expanded in width and include ground covers, xeriscape plantings, perennial flower beds, and/ or tiered shrub plantings.

Hedge the edge
Erase the center
Cut Corners
Widen existing beds

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Include native plants in your landscapes.

Native plants can be hard to find, but they are becoming more and more common and more and more affordable. They are, also, more cost-effective in the long run because they are naturally adapted to local growing conditions. They require less water, fertilizer, maintenance and replanting. Native plants are also known to be very effective in managing storm water because many species have deep root systems which stabilize soil and facilitate the infiltration of storm water runoff. Additionally, native plants​ support local wildlife, including insects such as bees and butterflies, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. 

Care should be taken to not plant invasive species as they tend to crowd out the native species. Some common groundcovers, shrubs, and vines are invasive and are prohibited from being planted. Refer to the state list of invasive plants.  

Dead flower stalks and leaves serve as winter habitat for numerous insects in their larval stages. If you’re getting rid of an introduced tree, consider girdling it and leaving part of the trunk standing. You will be amazed at what shows up!


The preservation of existing natural vegetated areas is a nonstructural LID-BMP that should be considered

throughout the design of a land development.  Ideally, the more natural area to be preserved, the better.


Using plants as a nonstructural LID technique can significantly reduce the impact of rainwater.  

Vegetated areas provide a pervious surface for groundwater recharge, particularly during dormant or non-growing seasons. In addition, vegetation can remove pollutants from the runoff flowing through it.

Vegetative filters and buffers can be created by preserving existing vegetated areas over which runoff will flow or by planting new vegetation.

Vegetative filters located immediately downstream of impervious surfaces such as roadways and parking lots can achieve pollutant removal, groundwater recharge, and runoff volume reduction.

Vegetated buffers adjacent to streams, creeks, and other waterways and water bodies can also help mitigate thermal runoff impacts, provide wildlife habitat, and increase site aesthetics.

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